Warren Little's essential kit for shooting sporting events around the globe

Ireland rugby player Keith Earls jumps over the line to score a try, his teammates looking on.
Keith Earls of Ireland jumps over the line to score his team's third try during Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Ireland and Italy at Dunedin Stadium on 2 October, 2011 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) lens. © Warren Little/Getty Images

Taking place in Japan from 20 September to 2 November, Rugby World Cup 2019™ will be a demanding, high-pressure event for the pro photographers tasked with capturing the action, so they need equipment that is fast, reliable and comfortable to handle.

Warren Little has been a sports photographer for Getty Images since 1996, and has travelled all over the world shooting high-profile events, including Rugby World Cups in France and New Zealand, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

His camera of choice is the full-frame Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. "The first thing to look for in a camera for sporting events is a reactive full-frame camera with excellent auto focus," he says. "Your next concerns are the high-speed performance, the reliability of the autofocus, and how many frames per second the burst mode is capable of, which in the case of the EOS-1D X Mark II is 14fps."

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Of course, Warren wants to be sure his optics are up to the task, which is why he relies on Canon L-series lenses to complement the three EOS-1D X Mark II bodies he always carries with him.

"As the cameras have now achieved true full-frame capability, sports photographers are able to work effectively with longer lenses, such as 400mm and 600mm," he says. "Those lenses on a cropped sensor could mean the view on a subject was too tight. But full-frame combined with longer lenses means the whole process of taking images is much better on the eye."

Here Warren talks us through the kit he uses to create his stunning action shots.

Getty Images sports photographer Warren Little holds a Canon telephoto lens.
Getty Images sports photographer Warren Little at the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York. © 2018 Getty Images

1. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

A Canon EOS-1D X Mark II DSLR.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon's flagship pro DSLR. 20.2-megapixel full-frame sensor. 61-point AF system. Up to 14fps. ISO to 409,600.

"The gist of what happens on the pitch is fairly straightforward, but it’s the defining moments when you need the speed and accuracy of focus and release. That’s when using a high-end system like Canon comes into its own and improves my capturing of the moment," says Warren. "The great thing about the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is that its button placement makes the camera so functional. I can easily adjust the ISO or the AF sensor, keep my eye on the action and not lose a shot because I'm busy fumbling with buttons."

The ergonomic design means the camera is comfortable to hold, so Warren can concentrate on picking the right spot to shoot from, and then make the most of the manual exposure function and the camera's autofocus.

"All I need to worry about is getting my exposure right and ensuring the images are good enough quality, which, considering the camera's 20.2MP capability, isn't a problem," he says.

When he's captured that moment of sporting drama, he needs to get his images across to his editor.

"The last thing they want is to spend ages working on my shots," he says. "But the images look fantastic right out of the camera. That's particularly true of the white balance. The colours are solid, so there's minimal work to get them ready for publication. That means we can all work quickly and efficiently."

2. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM

A Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Ultra-high-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, featuring a 4 stop Image Stabilizer with 3 modes. Delivers outstanding image quality in a robust design ideal for sports and wildlife photography.

In the action-packed world of sports photography, Warren needs a set of lenses that are fast and capable of producing sharp images in a variety of situations. He frequently turns to the ultra-high-performance Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lens, which ensures that, even from the sidelines, he can achieve intimate shots that capture all the action.

"If you're running along the sideline or even just sat by the try line, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is a great lens to use," says Warren. "The f/2.8 aperture is ideal for achieving the perfect shallow depth of field, which blurs the background and separates the action from the crowd."

Despite its size, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is lightweight. The body is made of magnesium alloy and titanium so you won't exhaust yourself lifting it back and forth.

Japanese rugby player Yuta Imamura is tackled by two Fiji players – one on each side.
Warren needs a long lens so he can capture the action from the sidelines. Here, Yuta Imamura of Japan is tackled by Nicky Little and Sisa Koyamaibole (right) of Fiji during Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Japan and Fiji at Le Stade on September 12, 2007 in Toulouse, France. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II) with a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM (now succeeded by the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM) lens. © Warren Little/Getty Images

3. Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

A Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

A pro-grade 200-400mm f/4 lens with a built-in 1.4x extender that boosts focal lengths to 280-560mm. A four-stop Image Stabilizer maximises sharpness. Instinctive controls enhance handling.

For versatility, says Warren, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is second to none. The built-in 1.4x extender boosts the focal length to 280-560mm and retains sharp and intuitive autofocus throughout the focal range.

"The EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is a great lens for rugby," says Warren. "It's phenomenal. The autofocus is quick enough to ensure I never lose a high-speed shot because of a loss of focus. I also do a great deal of golf work, and I often use this lens for that. In fact, a lot of photographers who shoot golf use this lens."

As well as being fast and capable of delivering edge-to-edge sharpness, the lens is weather-sealed to protect it from the elements. In addition, the Image Stabilization enables the use of shutter speeds up to four stops longer than usual without camera shake.

4. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range.

While Warren often uses long lenses, he also makes sure he always has a wide optic on him – just in case. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a professional-quality standard zoom that offers serious image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its range.

"The wide nature of the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM is great but I'm absolutely in love with the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM," says Warren. "It's not too heavy and it's incredibly versatile.

"Its range is particularly useful if I need to get a little closer to the action, which is often the case when I'm shooting press conferences, end-of-match reactions and celebrations. There can sometimes be a sudden rush to capture scenes at the end of a match. If you can use a wider lens to get in closer to the celebrations then you're on to a winner."

As with the other lenses Warren uses, one of the most crucial features of the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is its wide aperture, which is maintained throughout its zoom range. The nine-bladed diaphragm produces a circular aperture that achieves perfectly blurred backgrounds, which helps Warren ensure that the viewer's attention is concentrated solely on the action in the frame.

5. Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

A Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT.

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The Speedlite 600EX II-RT is engineered for fast frame-rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations.

"I use Speedlites mainly when I'm shooting press conferences and trophy presentations," says Warren. "When you have the ideal backdrop, you can create images that feature truly dramatic light. Overcompensating the flash and underexposing the background elevates those moments and makes them stand out from the norm. Every time Canon releases a new Speedlite, the evolution just gets better and better. You can't beat them."

The Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT (now replaced by the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT) can be used both on and off camera, and its built-in radio triggering offers remote lighting control at distances up to 30 metres. Crucially, the Speedlite's E-TTL II flash metering will guarantee accurate exposures every time.

6. Canon WFT-E8B Wireless File Transmitter

A Canon WFT-E8B Wireless File Transmitter.

Canon WFT-E8B Wireless File Transmitter

Featuring fast 802.11ac wireless LAN transmission, enhanced FTP transfer options and remote shooting, the WFT-E8B provides a host of additional functions to get more from the EOS-1D X Mark II.

This high-speed wireless file transmitter for the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II means that Warren is able to transfer copious files quickly and securely.

"Rather than uploading to an FTP site, Getty tends to use the file hosting service Dropbox, and the Canon WFT-E8B transmitter carries that functionality," says Warren. "The EOS-1D X Mark II is linked to a 4G device that I either keep in my backpack or about my person, which means I'm connected, wherever I am in the world. I can either transfer to the transmitter using Wi-Fi or connect the two using a cable that will increase the speed of transfer, although the file transfer is already incredibly quick. For example, a 50MB image can be sent off in around a second. This is particularly important if you're covering major events – you can transfer your images to the editors in real time and not waste time sending files from the venue's media centre.

"The real payoff is that you can get your shots into the world before anyone else. You never have to stop working, though you do also have the option to review your images. The WFT-E8B transmitters are an absolute game-changer for sports photography."

Written by Oliver Atwell

  • Canon is an official sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2019™, taking place in Japan from 20 September to 2 November. Getty Images sports photographer Warren Little will be an official photographer at the event.
  • TM © Rugby World Cup Limited 2015. All rights reserved.

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